Stanford Prison Experiment

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Stanford Prison Experiment

Philip Zimbardo, a world-renowned psychologist at Sanford University, conducted the landmark psychological study known as “The Stanford Prison Experiment”. Performed in the summer of 1973, the experiment set out to study the human response to captivity, in particular, to the real world circumstances of prison life. Volunteers played the roles of guards and prisoners, and lived in a mock prison. However, the quickly took a turn in the wrong direction, and concluded early.

Subjects were recruited through an ad placed in the local newspaper and offered $15 a day to participate in a 1-2 week study. Of the 75 participants that were selected, Zimbardo selected 21 to take part in the prison experiment. The subjects were predominantly white, with the exception of 1 subject of oriental background, and middle-glass young males. Of these 21 males, half were divided, at random into two groups of “prisoners” and “guards.

The prison was ran out of the basement of the Stanford Psychology building, which had been converted into the mock jail. The experiment got out of hand very quickly. Prisoners suffered aggressive and humiliating maltreatment at the hands of the guards, and many of them showed severe emotional stress after the experiment had concluded. Mr. Zimbardo himself at one point stated is own increasing interest in the experiment, in which he now actively guided. One incidence that gives this example is the rumor of a potential prison break. Mr. Zimbardo becomes so “worked up” as does the other guards that they attempt to have the experiment moved to a real, unused prison, deeming that it would be a more “secure” environment.

As the experiment proceeded, the guards become increasingly more aggressive, even sadistic. On the second day of the experiment, a prison riot broke out. Guards volunteered to stay over to break the revolt; this was done out of their own choice and without direction from the research staff. After this point, the guards attempted to pit the prisoners against one another with the invention of the “good” and “bad” cell block. This was in attempt to convince prisoners that they had “informers” and “snitches” among them. Prisoners were also “counted” and were questioned on their “numbers” and the 16 rules of the prison. Prisoners after the second day had become withdrawn, leading one prisoner to develop a psychosomatic rash all over his body, upon finding his “parole” had been denied. Gradually over the next 4 days, the guards continued to increase the levels of harassment, resulting in hunger strikes, and minor revolts.

After 6 out of the original 14 days the experiment had been planned for, Zimbardo concluded the study. This was done for fear the prisoners would be physically or mentally hurt. With the conclusion of the study, many of the guards found themselves sad, almost angry that it had ended. They enjoyed the feel of power and did not want to give it up. As for the prisoners, many of them had to go through debriefings following the experiment. This allowed them to ...
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